This post was first published in ICRISAT News

Message from Professor Chandra Madramootoo, Board Chair, ICRISAT

CHICKPEAPulses are truly magic, offering a win-win-win situation for the farmer, the consumer and the planet. Farmers and consumers globally would benefit by being more ‘pulse smart’. They are multi-functional crops that are good for nutrition and soil productivity, and are dryland crops that need less water and have the potential to weather climate change.

Traditionally pulses were an important part of daily diets, particularly in Asia. However, there has been a decline in the consumption of pulses over the past decade or two and pulses have been neglected in our diets. Therefore, the UN has declared 2016 as the International Year of Pulses to rekindle interest and knowledge on pulses and bring them back into our diets.

Highly nutritious and good for health
Pulses have high nutrition value. They are rich in calcium, iron and zinc. They are commonly referred to as the poor person’s meat as they are rich in protein and are comparatively less expensive. Conversely, developed countries should be aware that in addition to providing an opportunity to diversify their diets, pulses help address obesity and manage chronic diseases like diabetes and coronary conditions.

In the semi-arid tropics, women farmers form a major part of the labor force in pulse farming. Crops like pigeonpea and chickpea are usually grown as rotation crops and do not require a lot of manual labor. Women can spend their productive time in rearing children, looking after the household, cooking meals and so on besides growing these crops. Also women know the nutritional value of these crops. They know that when they are short of income these crops are cheaper and easier to grow and they will be able to provide a nutritious meal for their family.

Climate-smart alternatives
In the drylands and in parts of arid and semi-arid tropics where ICRISAT works, pulses are an important crop as there are highly water efficient. They help improve soil fertility by fixing nitrogen and promoting soil microbial activity. Pulses also make a positive contribution in reducing the release of greenhouse gases. They have a lower environmental footprint and can better withstand climate change, thus reducing risk for the smallholder farmer in developing countries.

Farmers growing traditional crops in the semi-arid tropics are going to face much more difficulty because of climate change, heat stress and rising temperatures. Of all the pulses, pigeonpea and chickpea that originated in the dryland tropics are highly tolerant to drought and heat. These two crops stand out in terms of growing in harsh ecological zones.

In view of the potential negative impact of climate change and the restrictions farmers have to face, ICRISAT is pushing its breeding programs to get more of these pulses out in the drier areas.